Dr. Anthony Fauci says he still needs a security detail, despite having retired from public service at the end of 2022, because of threats to his life inspired by comments from right-wing figures like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis and others have attacked Fauci—who advised both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as well as five other presidential administrations—for his pandemic-related policies like mask mandates and COVID vaccines. At a rally last year, DeSantis said about Fauci: “I’m just sick of seeing him. I know he says he’s going to retire. Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac.”
Fauci responded that while he doesn’t believe Florida’s governor intends him any physical harm, his comments could “trigger” acts of violence by “crazy” people.
“Somebody who doesn’t know anything about me, who’s crazy, says, ‘Wow, I’m going to go get that person’ or, ‘That person should be killed,’ or ,’That person should be prosecuted,’” Fauci told MSNBC on Thursday. “That’s the reason I have to have security.”
DeSantis, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, has long denounced mask mandates and COVID vaccines. At the beginning of this year, he announced an initiative to ban mask and vaccine requirements in Florida schools. And in March, he chastised a group of high school students for wearing face masks at an indoor news conference, saying, “We’ve got to stop with this COVID theater… This is ridiculous.”
DeSantis’s COVID rhetoric
DeSantis’s anti-mask, COVID-skeptical rhetoric is one that resonated with some people during the height of the pandemic lockdowns, and he’s continued to use it as a talking point in his campaign.
DeSantis was once considered a top rival to front-runner Trump in the bid for the top job. But since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officially declared the pandemic emergency over in May, voters don’t seem to care as much about anti-COVID campaign platforms, and DeSantis’ poll numbers have waned.
“COVID restrictions have gone from a dominant issue that got talked about all the time in the focus groups to one that never comes up,” Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist, told Politico on Friday. “People just don’t talk about it anymore.”
In Fauci’s interview with MSNBC, he said that he’s become the “symbol of the object of people’s anger.”
“I’m the one that had to, in an uncomfortable way… disagree with the President of the United States. That was very painful for me… but I felt that in order to just maintain my own personal professional integrity and responsibility to the American public that I had to say it like it was and I had to do it publicly,” Fauci said. “That triggered a degree of negativity towards me on the part of the far-right.”
“Governor DeSantis doesn’t personally want to hurt me,” he added. “But he’s triggering people who are bad and really want to hurt people. That’s the problem.”